A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Brief time in Tokyo

Nothing new really, we are boring I know...

sunny 6 °C

As a result we are up late, and grab the base Suica cards. First we are out to Shinjuku to see the sights from the Tokyo from the Metropolitan Government Building. This is a free sightseeing spot and on a glorious clear day like today you can see for miles. Fujiyama is clearly visible (for the first time in 3 visits here) and all Tokyo is spread out beneath you. We have a conversation with one of the Tourist guides who points out a few salient landmarks.
Fujiyama seen for the first time in 3 years

Fujiyama seen for the first time in 3 years

Great view from the TMG building

Great view from the TMG building

L will be really annoyed, as last year it rained and snowed and was as miserable as Tokyo can be. Next we head to the Azabujuban neighbourhood which has a bit of a French feel to it, where we head to Blue and White, a small handicrafts shop. There are some great things here, many bags, fabrics, clothes, scarves and ceramics to lust after, and we pick up one or two for L that may make up for the good weather we are having and she missed out on last year. From here we head up the Jimbocho area to look at a few ski shops. G wants his own board and get up (not till he stops growing) and is drooling over the bargains available at Kanda Cheap. They also have ski boots for 25,000 yen, so I am tempted too. Just around the corner at the recommended Fuso boots, the prices are up in the 50-80Ks, but you could pick up previous seasons from 30K. Not this time, if we are back next year we will spend a day here early and pick up some gear.Blue and White, Azabujuban

Blue and White, Azabujuban

We head our separate ways around Akihabara, but my favourite model shop from previous visits has closed down! I console myself with some kits from nearby. We join up to get G a few things, then head upstairs to the 8th floor in Yodobashi to have a meal of eel, love it. Back at the hotel, can't get the internet working, so no skype.
Today we are out to Disney. This will be the last time. We learnt from the last time and came during the week and the queues are noticeably quicker. Most of our rides are on Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, but we also get to others including the tea cups (for L) Peter pan’s flight, Roger’s Car Toon spin and the haunted house. There seemed to be far too much popcorn eaten as well. We are there till stumps, and G has a snooze on the train home.It's magic

It's magic

On the tea cups

On the tea cups

For our last day in Tokyo, we have the big buffet breakfast in the hotel to get us through the day. G swears he so full, it is going to come back up. We start in Shimbashi where G gets gaming headphones and happily, at half price. While he is in the shop, I wander through some of the back streets, which have a completely different feel to the shopping streets around the block. We divert over to Asakusa to pick up some traditional Japanese brushes, then back to Ueno to visit the Nature and Science Museum. We had a lot of fun with the interactive displays, especially riding the live dinosaurs.Tokyo fire Hydrant!

Tokyo fire Hydrant!

On the way back to the Hotel we dropped in to Akiba to a vending machine selling caramel drink – not the pancake drink that G has been looking for since 2011, but close enough – hot, sweet and caramelly. And this is the closest we could find after a fortnight.
Caramel drink - close enough

Caramel drink - close enough

Back to Shinigawa, find out there has been an incident on the train lines and the N’Ex is suspended. JR give us the alternative – up to Nippori station then Keisei Skyliner to Narita. The timing is tight, but the trains are right on time and we get there with 2 minutes to spare. It costs an extra 4800 yen, but better that than being late for the flight. Now we are on the train, we can relax, and I take the time to freshen up. We are into the airport right on time and the queues are small and we are through soon. We have a bit of time to kill, so I go and spend the remaining yen on stuff, mostly foody crap.
Inside Narita G gets WiFi on his iPod, but I can’t on the netbook, not at all happy about that. Needed to spend time catching up on this anyways. So rang L instead of skype, until the credit on our travelSim runs out. Again, this has been a great way of getting low cost phone calls in another country, and of course got to plug the 28 degrees credit card – the only one to travel with as they do not have conversion charges, and they use the daily exchange rates, not one 5% in the banks favour. If you are travelling overseas from Australia, check it out.
Called to the plane, off and away. We get to spend more time watching films and eating sort of food. Have a snooze, then we are in Sydney and it is morning. Pick up duty free, head across to domestic, and soon enough we are back home, and it was like it never happened. But it will happen again, next time, Hokkaido…

Posted by lostagain 23:43 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Last days in Myoko Kogen (this year)

Seki Onsen, Ikenotaira and back to Tokyo

overcast 0 °C

After a later breakfast we are getting a lift from the Refle team to Seki Onsen. Now we could see Seki Onsen from Akakura Onsen the other day and it was just over there. But to drive there means a 25 minute trip down the mountain, along the main road, and back up to Seki. Did not realise this before, and am glad we are paying a fee for the time we are taking out of their day with the two trips. During the week there is one bus a day each way (1000 yen each, each way), but not today.
Seki Onsen is a small resort with only two lifts. The lower lift is a double chair, not covered, and the higher is a single seat chair, but with no back. There is no grooming apart from an easy run out on the right leading to the restaurant and its access track. There are lots of treed areas, a few open steeps with cornices up to about 4 metres high and all with a good deep powder cover. We spend the morning going through the trees and running the lift line (except for that spot where you can touch the snow from the lift). It is great fun cutting new tracks in the deep powder.
I would like to go higher, but G is not keen on the safety factor of the higher chair. We get into the Taube for lunch at the second try, way too full the first time. Although Seki is the smallest out of the way resort, it is the weekend, it does have a rep for powder and there was a good fall of fresh last night. We continue on, getting in a couple of 2 metre drops over the edge near the lift line. We spend so much time in the area that is getting pretty chopped up, so we head for other pastures.Carving powder at Seki Onsen

Carving powder at Seki Onsen

Minimura san is waiting to take us back to the hotel. Onsen as usual, good stretch and watch the Sumo championships. These have been going all week and make addictive viewing, even if you cannot understand the commentary. Some bouts done in a few seconds, others last nearly a minute. When those boys come out of the blocks and crunch together, you would not want to be in between them. Had a look online to get tickets, but the tournament finishes before we reach Tokyo.
We booked in for another dinner in the hotel tonight, and asked to be surprised. Some sushi, venison sashimi, and a sukiyaki. This is our first sukiyaki, and I cocked it up. Mind you, I have provided Hikigawa sama with plenty of amusement as I go through a number of stages of cocking it up. But now I know how to eat sukiyaki. But I’m not going to tell you, so you may provide amusement to your waitress too. Oh okay, you break the egg into its own bowl, scramble it up and dip the cooked food into it before eating it. You don’t put the whole egg in a bowl with the cooked food waiting for the egg to cook, and you don’t then transfer all the contents of said bowl into the cooking pot, creating scrambled egg in the pot, amusement for the waitress and embarrassment for your son. Can we move on now?
Another great dinner at the Refle

Another great dinner at the Refle

Domestic duties after dinner, washing and accounting to be done. Then reading, finished another book. G wants to stay up a bit longer as he is getting to the close of ‘The knife of never letting go’ and it has him hooked. It ends on a massive cliff hanger, and he has not bought the sequel with him...
Local skiing at Kanko and Onsen today. We have located Damien’s powder spot and do several runs through there. There is some deep untracked powder and we can do some smooth majestic sweeping turns or fall over in it. This is really good stuff and what we are here for. A few other runs before lunch back at Yodel restaurant then we happen across a large untracked spot over the back of Onsen. We have 5 runs tracking freshies down here, and get to admire our handiwork as we come up the lift each time. Deep super soft powder, what a treat. Get the last lift of the day then head back to the Refle.
Carving in Akakan

Carving in Akakan

Back home for an onsen after the Sumo finals. Harumafuji wins emphatically, and gets presented with dozens of trophies one after the other. Out for our final dinner in Akakura, and somehow we are back to yakiniku. For a change this is followed with a crepe. Then it is back to pack and watch ‘A Team’ – first time I have got the English button to work on the TV.
For our final breakfast, Hikigawa san has gone all out – we are having DIY sushi breakfast. We have slabs of sashimi, a bowl of rice and fresh wasabi, it is magic – check it out!Our special DIY sushi breakfast - fantastic!

Our special DIY sushi breakfast - fantastic!

And our great chef Hikigawa san

And our great chef Hikigawa san

Still happy from breakfast, we bring down our cases, but Minimura san tells us to leave them in the room - it is ours till this evening after we have skied and had an onsen, how good is that. We get the bus to Ikenotaira. Here the weather is sunny/snowy/clear down low freezing up top – if it had rained I would have thought I was in Melbourne...
There was a bit of snowfall overnight, and we are not finding any deep powder today but there is a 5cm layer everywhere which is great for swooping down the groomers. We both have a big stack when we hit an unexpected cat track; sit there making sure everything is in the right place before continuing. We keep on going until the last lift to the top, then race down to catch the bus back. We are little bit early, so G has a crepe – where does he find them?
Crepe boy at Ikenotaira

Crepe boy at Ikenotaira

We drop our hire gear off at Myoko Snow Sports, say goodbye to Damien and Nozomi, well after they give us a lift to the hotel. We race through our onsen, then Minimura san asks when our train is – we don’t know, whatever is next! He drives us to the station and we say fond farewells, we have had a really great stay at Refle thanks to everyone there. He sees us onto the 6:05 to Nagano we have time for a quick bite at the station before catching the 7:30 shink to Tokyo. We have a quick transfer to Shinigawa and are into the hotel by 10pm, getting organised and into bed takes a bit longer.
Our host at the Refle, Minimura san (Yoko was not around at the time)

Our host at the Refle, Minimura san (Yoko was not around at the time)

Posted by lostagain 22:50 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Myoko Kogen,2013 part 2

More Kanko, Great Dinner and Suginohara

overcast 0 °C

In the morning, filled on breakfast (western today) we head out onto 20cms of fresh powder. As usual, the pistes are groomed, but there are plenty of areas of powder available. I can even entice G onto the ungroomed Mogul Challenge on Maruyuma triple, where we fresh track on good powder. We stick to black runs up high with a good cover. Do make a mistake and head onto Champion A which is seriously chopped up and tough on a snowboard, and G stacks a bit.Resting under the trees

Resting under the trees

After lunch G has a lesson with Damien from Myoko Snow Sports (just like last year) working on basics to apply to the choppy stuff. D takes him around the place whilst I go for a tour. At one point I go on Hotel #5 lift, and go around catching exactly the same chair 4 times in a row! Number 12, we will always have that special thing. I like this run as there is a chance to ski the trees off to the side, although it is pretty chopped up by the end of the day and hard to make fresh tracks. But D has shown G a few secret powder spots that we can use later on. Mind you we only work out where on our last run, and that we have missed it, so maybe later... As we head home, the snow is showing patches of ice where it has frozen after the sun has melted it during the day.
Tonight the yakiniku is finally open so G is happy as he gets to bbq his own dinner, real boy’s food. He would come here every night given the choice (which he isn’t). And to top it off he gets a crepe for dessert again. More mundane stuff when we get back, with washing to be done and hung out to dry. We are also trying to work out when the best time to have a recovery day (the old bloke needs it) as we have been told there is a storm coming going to dump big time on Friday and Saturday.
Recovery day is today. Today is beautiful blue skies with no overnight fall, so the snow will not be at its best. We will be slack today and be generally lazy. After breakfast we spend a couple of hours reading, I get to the end of Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard a fantastic read which just keeps pulling you along – you are sure it won’t end well but you have to keep going. We then spend three hours walking around Akakura – and there is not a lot to see, but we get to throw snowballs at each other, trees, crows and signs. There are some good viewpoints across the valley, but I am not much of a photographer.Akakura


Back the Refle, I head up for a snooze and G (surprise!) is back to you tubing downstairs. With no skiing today we skip the onsen. As we have booked for 8 nights, not only was one night free, but we also get a free meal. And what a meal - Hikigawa san in the kitchen has cooked up a storm for us – the only two in the restaurant. We are served sashimi – snapper, clam, tuna, another fish which does not translate. It is all beautifully fresh and delicious, except for the clam, a bit tough and slimy for my taste, but don’t let me prejudice you. There is also a plate of venison sushi – a new one for us – and it is amazing with the ponzu sauce. A hot pot is bubbling away with crab, scallops, ugly fish (that’s what they said!!) enoki mushrooms, leeks and cabbage. There is a generous plate of tempura – prawns, mushrooms, capsicum, potato, kumera and all in a crisp light batter. We finish it off with rice cake in a red bean soup, hot, tasty and sweet.
sashimi boat

sashimi boat

Tempura magic

Tempura magic

As I am full as a goog, I have to spend time reading before I am settled enough to sleep.
In the morning it looks great outside with a steady snowfall coming down. We get through brekky quickly to get on the 8:30 bus to Suginohara, and we are out at 9:10. Stupidly, your correspondent rushed over and bought tickets. Stupidly, because the guys in the queue behind me said ‘hey, how come the gondola isn’t going?” before getting on the bus and going to Ikenotaira. We were stuck with tickets and two tiny two seater lifts, which we had to share with around 50 other paying customers and 500 ski school students. This meant a wait of 35 minutes in the cold wind and snow to do a 2 minute run. NOT HAPPY. In fact after our 3rd wait, when we got to the top of the lift G suggested we take off our skis/board and walk up the mountain to track some of the virgin snow – I have got to tell you, it was the moment to make me burst with pride. So we shouldered arms and trooped 400 metres up the slope to make our own mark on the mountain. We got our 15 seconds of fame, that’s all it took; but it felt beautiful. We were very pleased with our tracks, and got to admire them for a further minute, when a phalanx of mogul munchers wiped them out as they groomed the higher slopes of the piste. This was the first sign that the gondola was going to start and open up so much more of the mountain; the second was the gondola starting. We raced down to the bottom and waited for another 30 minutes as they did all their required testing. But we were off! We got to track even more virgin snow, picking up the deep stuff on the side of the pistes and riding knee deep. We just keep going up and down, finding loads and loads of powder and loving it. HAPPY. VERY HAPPY.This is how deep the powder was!

This is how deep the powder was!

At lunch strip off my jacket to see the tide mark of powder up to my waist. After lunch we push out to the #2 high speed lift which is nearly deserted. We head to the trees and the terrain park and get more untracked, fluffy, fantastic white stuff. I have a few stacks – it is like falling into a swimming pool filled with goose down (yes I have tried this). I could do this all day but the lifts will soon shut and we have to get the bus back to Akakura.
After the obligatory onsen, stretch and watching sumo, we hear from L again. Her crunched car has been assessed, it is repairable ‘but the repair will be worth more than the car’. So the insurance will probably write it off. That’s another little bit of excitement we did not really need.
G’s choice for dinner tonight, so we are off for yakiniku again. I take a photo of him, and show the lady in charge a photo (still in the camera) of G eating there a year ago. She is well amused, and now we are regular customers – if we come back in a year’s time! Tonight I have forced G to eat some veggies with the meat but I think I ate about 75% of them. Dessert is crepes again, which leaves me feeling precariously full.I love my crepe!

I love my crepe!

Posted by lostagain 22:48 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

Back to Myoko Kogen, 2013, part one

Yes, skiing again...

sunny 0 °C

Well we are off to a good start on this trip – we get out of the car at the airport and G’s backpack is nowhere to be found. So we check in whilst L does a 50 minute round trip back home. We have got a coffee frappe to cool her down on her return, before she heads off to a wedding.
Flight to Sydney uneventful. Qantas has provided ‘dinner’, a chicken pie in a bag, so G needs some sushi at Sydney to keep the hunger away. Plenty of time to spare, ordered gin to refill the cupboard. Flight to Tokyo comfortable enough, had to monitor the video use to make sure we got some sleep. G managed to get a dinner not only that he did not ask for, but wasn’t even on the menu! Got around 5 hours sleep, then into Narita, straight through customs and down to JR East to get a flexible 4 day pass, which fits our trip perfectly. Onto the N’Ex into Tokyo, over to the shinkansen to Nagano, then onto Myoko Kogen by local train. The trains are quick and easy; we left Narita at 7:45 and were in Myoko Kogen by noon. We were met by the team from Refle Hotel, Yoko and Mr Minimura. We had a tour of the recently reopened hotel then we were off to Myoko Snow Sports to be greeted back by Nozomi and the team. Well kitted out, we were on the slopes by 2. We have two and a half hours on Akakura Kanko before we head back to the Refle. The snow is good, still a fair bit of powder around over a good base. It is so good to be back on the planks in such great conditions. We get every moment we can, going through to the last chair of the day.Hotel Refle

Hotel Refle

As always post ski, off to the onsen to clean up and have a good hot soak. G then downloads Skype and we have a chat with L. Up the road for dinner – our yakiniku restaurant from last year is closed, so into Anntonn’s basement izekaya on the corner, small, steamy but good food. The hit for the night is enoki fungi cooked with butter in a foil pack. After a long day, bed comes earlyish.
Draw back the curtains in the morning and it is a foreign sight for us in Myoko – blue skies! We are up late after the long day previous. We start the day in Akakura Onsen, as most of their lifts are uncovered. The snow is good, but there are only patches of powder available on the edges of the runs, we have found some good bits around Marayuma.
Mt Myoko from the Yodel Restaurant

Mt Myoko from the Yodel Restaurant

After lunch we have a challenge. Akakura Kanko and Onsen are next to each other with our lunch restaurant in the middle. We have to get to the lowest, widest point of one to the other, via the highest point on the resorts. It goes well to start with, until we hit the school run around the Ginrei lifts on Onsen – there are, without exaggeration, 300 school kids having lessons. We slowly manoeuvre around them to the bottom, where the kind instructors take pity and let the 2 of us push in front of 100 of them. We get to the high point at the top of Hotel #5 lift, then a straight run all the way to the bottom of the Kanko gondola – complete before 4pm. As the shadows lengthen, what snow has melted is now freezing over.Ready to head down a black run

Ready to head down a black run

Into the onsen after a good stretch, then off to Kei izekaya next to Anntonn’s. The yakiniku is still closed. Good food again, had to get a couple of extra courses as these were smaller than last night’s. Loved the edamame beans, in their pods and salted – great. Bill was the same as last night, 3500 yen. Did another 1200 getting crepes on the way home. G got stuck on you tube so was late to bed, and looked it at breakfast.
Today we have Japanese breakfast, so we have miso, some omelette, a bit of meat, pickles, rice, green tea, and a pasta potato and fish mix. Good and filling, set us up for the day. Looking out the window, it seems to be raining. By the time we are out, it is snow instead, and it continues on and off through the day.
Today we are still on a mix of Onsen and Kanko, mainly Kanko as they have covered lifts, and it is very bitter at times. The snow is still good though, spending a lot of time up high in the steeper runs. We are getting right into the powder and the tree skiing – there is a rush there not provided by skiing on piste unless you are trying to break the sound barrier. We stop for lunch at the Maple restaurant. At the Japanese resorts we have found it makes no difference if you eat high up on the mountain, the food is all a similar price top and bottom. With lunch we get all you can drink at the coke machine, so we try all the different flavours. My favourite is Calpis, tastes like a lemonade spider and just as sweet. G likes a mix of green fanta and Hi C, which defies description.
Back on the snow we are looking for the patches of powder still around on the edges of the runs, ducking in and out of the trees, good fun. The all you can drink bar is interrupting the flow though, with several rest stops required. The weather is closing in, but windy only, not too bad and we keep going to the last run.Mt Myoko

Mt Myoko

We do the normal routine of stretches, watching Sumo and an onsen before heading out for ramen for dinner. Good simple stuff but pretty filling – G cannot get to the end of his. We are heading home early to get to bed early, but get side tracked with Skype and youtube. Not good news on skype – L’s car has been rear ended and crunched up front and back – fortunately without her inside. Just driveable, but it needs serious attention.

Posted by lostagain 21:59 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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